This post chronicles the journey of my Rhino Beetle figure from start to finish. This project allowed me to combine a ton of things I’m interested in and passionate about, but don’t necessarily get to practice or explore in my client work. Things like: typography, packaging design, branding, the natural world, toys, and model making… especially model making. When I retire I just want to paint plastic models and build dioramas for them. Well, that and draw of course!
If you guys have any questions about any of the steps, feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail. I’ll be happy to answer what I can.
Step 1: Design And Sculpt
Creating a model sheet for my sculptor (Paul Tanompong of Props and Pop and Blue Dinos) was the most important step and also the most challenging. I had never considered how this beetle would look in three dimensions until this point. This translation is always the most difficult part for me mostly because I don’t have a lot of practice doing orthographic turns. It might look good from the side, but what about the back? Or the front?
I also had to figure out how I wanted the parts to be engineered for efficient painting and assembly. I knew going in to this project that I did not want to manually mask anything in the paint step so I broke down all the parts into separate pieces…even the pupils of the eyes. Masking is incredibly time consuming and having to include a tedious masking step on this figure would have made the whole project nearly impossible to finish on my own.
Each part was also keyed so assembly was similar to that of a 3-D puzzle.
Step 2: Rapid Prototyping
3-D prints performed by Paul Tanompong.
Step 2: Mold making process
The hi-res rapid prototype pieces are then cleaned up and primed. Silicon molds are made for all the parts the beetle. These molds will then be filled with resin to cast the individual pieces.
Mold making by Paul Tanompong.
Step 3: Resin casting
The silicon molds are then filled with resin and cured. Silicon molds eventually break down due to the extreme temperatures of the chemical reactions in the resin mixture. Because of this, new silicon molds have to made after around 30 individual casts per mold.
Resin casting by Paul Tanompong.
Step 4: Resin Blanks
Once cured, the resin pieces are removed from their molds and cleaned up.
Resin clean-up by Paul Tanompong.
Step 5: Fully Assembled Resin Blank
After receiving the resin copies in the mail, I test fit everything and assembled an unpainted copy for reference.
Step 6: Preparing raw resin pieces for painting
I first primed all the pieces with multiple coats of white Duplicolor Sandable Automotive Primer.
Step 7: Painting (Head, Legs, Body, Shell)
I mixed custom colors using a variety of paints from the following paint lines. Multiple coats were required to reach the desired finish. I’m partial to Vallejo model paints since they are highly pigmented and I have experience airbrushing them on plastic models in the past.
Vallejo Model Color
Vallejo Model Air
Vallejo Game Color
Vallejo Game Air
Vallejo Mecha Color
I experimented with a combination of the following clear coats.
Vallejo Premium Airbrush Color Acrylic Polyurethane Matt Varnish (62.062)
Vallejo Premium Airbrush Color Acrylic Polyurethane Gloss Varnish (62.064)
Vallejo Mecha Varnish Gloss Varnish (27.701)
Vallejo Mecha Varnish Matt Varnish (27.702)
Iwata HP-CS airbrush
Iwata HP-TR2 airbrush
GREX Tritium TS5 Side-feed airbrush
Iwata Power Jet Pro compressor
Step 8: Painting (Eyes)
The eyes were tricky. Originally, I had Paul include a scribed outline of the iris shape on each eye piece which I would later use as a guide to hand-paint each of them with a brush. After one attempt at hand painting them, I realized that it would have taken me forever to get them right while at the same time leaving me zero margin for error.
I went back to the drawing board and had Paul model the eye in two separate parts which I could paint individually and assemble later. The pieces were too small to cast in resin so each eye assembly is a direct 3-D print from the Peopoly Moai . This process was painstaking in its own way, but paled in comparison to the precision and steady hand required for the brush painted alternative.
Step 9: Final assembly
Once all the parts were painted, clear coated, and left to cure they were assembled with both super glue and a two-part epoxy.
Step 10: Packaging
When I was brainstorming packaging ideas for the figure, I considered all possible options including a custom printed box (similar to my wood whale project) and a brightly colored two-part gift box with custom labels. Inspiration hit me when I was at a pet store looking for props for the beetle’s photoshoot and came across one of those “critter carriers”. It came in just the right size and that’s when I knew this was the piece that would tie the whole project together.
I was able to find a place online where I could order them in bulk, but even then I didn’t feel the presentation was complete.
I wanted the back of the carrier to have some sort of backdrop to give the presentation a more diorama-like feel. After some research, I realized that transparent stickers were too cost prohibitive at the size I was looking to get made. I needed another solution.
I was browsing the online printer I use for most of my promotional collateral hoping to look for a product I could repurpose when I came across window clings. Not only was it the transparent material I needed, but they also had the capability to lay down a base of white ink and print graphics on top of that base. This printing option left the areas without artwork 100% transparent!
The smallest size they could print was 24x36” so I ganged up a bunch of the backgrounds I illustrated on a single document and cut them out with an X-Acto knife and ruler.
The clings aren’t permanent and can be easily removed/repositioned, but it gave me the effect I was looking for at a reasonable price.
The finished Rhino Beetle
And that’s it! Hopefully you guys enjoyed seeing how I brought this guy to life. Again, if you have any questions about any particular step, I’ll do my best to answer them. My knowledge about 3-D printing, mold making, and resin casting is very much surface level so I can’t offer much (if any) advice on those topics unfortunately.
Thanks for reading!